Thursday, December 15, 2011

"I need people to listen to me"

From today's Daily Record (an Ohio newspaper), "Testimony asks state to abolish death penalty; it creates 'more victims'":

COLUMBUS -- Twenty-seven years ago, Mary Jane Stout and her husband, Norman, allowed John David Stumpf and another man into their Guernsey County home to use the telephone.

In response, Stumpf shot and killed Mary Jane and attempted to kill her husband with repeated gunshots to the head.

That was in May 1984. Stumpf has been on Death Row since that year while his case works its way through the requisite state and federal appeals before an execution date is set.

On Wednesday, the couple's son asked state lawmakers to abolish Ohio's death penalty, saying the lengthy legal process has brought nothing but pain and constant reminders of the crime rather than closure.

"We need certainty, we need healing," Chris Stout told the House's criminal justice committee. "We need to not be hauled into court again and again for 27 years and ... traumatized over and over."

He added, "I need this system to stop, period. I need the death penalty to be over and I need people to listen to me when I say, do not do this to me or my family. Don't kill John David Stumpf because of me. We've been through enough, and we want it to end. All this system does is create more victims. ..."

Stout was one of more than a dozen people providing testimony in favor of legislation that would end capital punishment in the state.

Speakers included former Death Row inmates who were innocent of the charges against them, attorneys who talked about the costs and inequity in administering the death penalty and family members of murder victims who said the system is not working.

Read the full article.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Human Rights Day thank you

Seven years ago, at the UN Church Plaza in New York City, a group gathered to celebrate the official launch of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. Here's a photo of the Founders" Pledge, which says, "In honor and memory of our family members taken from us by homicide, the undersigned join together to form Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. In the name of victims we pledge to work to end the death penalty in all countries of the world."

It was, of course, a deliberate choice to launch MVFHR on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In our first mailing shortly after the founding ceremony, we wrote:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that sets forth the most basic principles regarding the value of human life and the way human beings ought to treat one another, was inspired by victims, demanded by victims. It grew out of the suffering of millions of civilians murdered under the brutal regimes of the Second World War, and its adoption on December 10, 1948 was a way to honor the loss of these lives, and an attempt to give meaning to the loss, by asserting that such violations are neither moral nor permissible under any nation or regime.

Now is the time to raise our voices again and insist that violations of human life in the form of the death penalty or other state killings are not permissible under any nation or regime. It is time to call for the abolition of the death penalty because the only way to uphold human rights is to uphold them in all cases, universally.

We believe that survivors of homicide victims have a recognized stake in the debate over how societies respond to murder and have the moral authority to call for a consistent human rights ethic as part of that response. Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights is the answer to that call.

Now as we observe International Human Rights Day today, in 2011, we extend our deepest thanks to all MVFHR's members and supporters who have helped answer that call and who have accomplished so much in these seven years.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Remembering Martina Davis Correia

MVFHR joins the many other organizations that have expressed sadness at the passing of Martina Correia, sister of Troy Davis. Troy Davis was executed in Georgia on September 21st, amid much protest because of his significant claims of innocence. So many joined in the campaign to stop Davis's execution -- not only in the U.S. but around the world as well -- and the campaign was marked by the t-shirts many of the protesters wore, saying "I am Troy Davis." Martina had led that tremendous campaign for many years while battling cancer.

MVFHR's Executive Director Renny Cushing offers these thoughts:

On numerous occasions over the past dozen years, I was fortunte to share a public platform with Martina Correia as we both tried to put a public face on the issue of violence and the death penalty. Martina was more than just an advocate for her brother; she was emblematic of the pain and struggle that all families of death row prisoners experience. Her dignity and quiet strength in both her public work and her private life were inspiring. When I heard of her passing, I thought not just of her but of all the family members of death row prisoners and executed persons and of how many people in the world today could be wearing a t-shirt that reads “I am Martina Correia."

Many others have offered memories and tributes. In a post on the Amnesty International blog, Laura Moye wrote:

Martina fought her deteriorating body every step of the way to hold onto life and to be in this world for her family and for the human family. Her body finally gave out, living eleven years longer than doctors predicted she would. It is unimaginable what stress and hardship she and her family faced having a loved one on death row who was almost executed three times, then finally killed by the state she called home and in the country she served as a military and civilian nurse. Martina’s mother, though in perfect health, died shortly after Troy Davis’ final appeal was denied and a few months before his execution. The families of murder victims and the families of death row prisoners endure enormous pain. The death penalty is horrifically destructive, creating a downward spiral of violence that drags so many people down in its wake. We must end it so that an authentic justice that brings us accountability, healing and a better future can take root and blossom.

And here is a link to Scott Langley's moving tribute and photo series.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cities for Life

Today is the Community of Sant'Egidio's annual day of Cities for Life - Cities Against the Death Penalty, when well over a thousand cities around the world hold events and gatherings calling for an end to the death penalty. Many, such as the event at the Roman Colosseum, involve the lighting of a public monument. Illinois MVFHR member Cathy Crino will be joining with many others to participate in that special occasion, and MVFHR board member Bill Pelke is in Germany participating in Sant'Egidio's speaking tour there.

Also today, Massachusetts MVFHR member Bob Curley will be the speaker at an event, "A Journey from Death to Life," held at Boston College and organized by The Community of Sant'Egidio in Boston. Bob, who was initially a supporter of the death penalty following his son Jeffrey's murder in 1997, has spoken widely, in many venues around the world, but Boston College has a special resonance because it was where he first announced publicly, ten years ago, that he had changed his mind and was now an opponent of the death penalty. You can read more about Bob's journey in Brian Macquarrie's book The Ride.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"I simply cannot participate"

"[[The death penalty] has been carried out just twice in last 49 years in Oregon. Both were during my first administration as Governor, one in 1996 and the other in 1997. I allowed those sentences to be carried out despite my personal opposition to the death penalty. I was torn between my personal convictions about the morality of capital punishment and my oath to uphold the Oregon constitution.

"They were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as Governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years. I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."

MVFHR joins many other organizations in thanking Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber for his decision yesterday to halt executions in the state. Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP) has news and information about this momentous decision, the work that led up to it, and the further examination of the death penalty that lies ahead in Oregon.

MVFHR board member Aba Gayle, who also serves on the board of OADP, has been part of the effort to stop executions in Oregon. For more voices of Oregon victims' family members, vist MVFHR's Gallery of Victims' Stories.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Take care of all victims

From today's Baltimore Sun, this opinion piece by Vivian Penda, "For the sake of victims' families, repeal the death penalty":

I always thought murder was something that happened to other families. You read about it in the paper. You see the legal process unfold on TV. There's so much attention paid to certain murders that you assume the families going through their tragedy are getting support and help.

Then my son, Dennis, was murdered in 2002, and I learned how little support there actually is. Losing Dennis rests heavily with me every day. His murder received no notice, and our family was left to grieve on our own.

It turns out that my experience is not unusual. Only a small fraction of Maryland's 400-plus murders each year generate headlines. For those with the knowledge and means to access help, there is a patchwork of government and nonprofit services to help victims' families cope with their loss.

For too many of us, there is none of that.

We fail the families of too many murder victims at the moment when they need our support most. Murder traumatizes families, isolating survivors in their pain. Many survivors face trouble just getting out of bed, much less figuring out where to find and fight for grief counseling and other needed services.

Instead of providing comprehensive support to all surviving families of murder victims, Maryland has opted to maintain a costly death penalty that throws millions of dollars at just a few cases. A 2008 study commissioned by the Abell Foundation found that the average death penalty case adds almost $2 million extra to the state's costs, and that having the punishment has cumulatively cost the state $186 million.

I find this use of state resources offensive. Many murder victims come from low-income families. And although three-quarters of murder victims in Maryland are African-American, the five men currently on death row are all there for murdering white Marylanders.

Some say the death penalty offers justice to victims, but with the majority of people on death row still there after decades, even the cases that do result in execution impose a cruel wait on the victims' families. Changes to our state's death penalty law enacted in 2009 have only prolonged this.

Why do we choose to pursue a small handful of death sentences at a cost of millions and millions of dollars, all while tormenting the victims in the process? Those millions could instead help all victims' families with their trauma, and prevent crime so there aren't as many victims in the future. Why don't we invest to break the cycle of grief and violence, making for healthier and safer communities for all of us?

The ugly truth is that capital punishment elevates a few murders, leaving the rest of us to suffer without recognition. The effort to identify the "worst of the worst" rests on a false assumption that some murders are simply ordinary. What mother is going to agree that her little girl or boy's murder was ordinary? All murders are horrible and leave behind a family in grief, a family overwhelmed by a heartache we all hope to never face.

In 2008, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, having heard testimony from many survivors of murder victims, concluded that capital cases are more detrimental to surviving families than life-without-parole cases. The commission recommended repealing the death penalty and using the resulting savings to increase resources and services for surviving families.

This is why the 2012 death penalty repeal bill will include funds to aid murder victims' families. I will be working with other family members who have lost loved ones to violence to pass this bill next year.

In a time of shrinking resources, we need to make choices. Instead of pursuing a handful of executions that may not take place for decades, let's take care of the thousands of families across Maryland who have been hurt by violent crime. Let's take care of all of us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Welcome to our new board members

We would like to welcome three new members to MVFHR's Board of Directors:

Long-time abolitionist
Aba Gayle also serves on the boards of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, The World Forgiveness Initiative, and The Catherine Blount Foundation, named for Aba Gayle's 19-year-old daughter who was murdered in California in 1980. In this issue of the MVFHR newsletter, Aba Gayle talks about how she initially felt pressured to support the death penalty for her daughter's killer, and how she came to change her mind.

James Staub is active with Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. James was 12 years old when his mother, Patricia Staub, was murdered in 1985, and to this day the murder rrmains unsolved. In this issue of MVFHR"s newsletter, James speaks about how an unsolved murder affects a survivor.

Yolanda Littlejohn's sister Jacquetta Thomas was murdered in North Carolina in 1991. Two men were arrested for her murder. One was never convicted; the other was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. In 2009, he was exonerated and released from prison when DNA evidence proved that he could not have been the killer. The murder of Jacquetta Thomas is now a cold case – an unsolved homicide. Yolanda has been active in the effort to repeal North Carolina’s death penalty and speaks frequently to groups, telling her story and discussing the effects of exoneration on victims’ families.

We are honored to have these three new members join our Board, and we know that MVFHR will be even stronger and more effective because of their contributions.

Not the direction I want

From Monday's KSFY (ABC) news in South Dakota, "Victim's family reacts to state seeking death penalty for inmate":

Family members of 75-year-old Maybelle Schein are reacting to the state's decision to seek the death penalty for accused murderer James McVay.

The Minnehaha County States Attorney's office filed the paperwork on that decision Monday.

Police say 41-year-old McVay stabbed Schein to death in her Sioux Falls home and then stole her car.

We talked to Schein's cousin, Robin Prunty on the phone. She didn't want to go on camera.

Here's what she had to say when we ask her about the state seeking the death penalty.

"That's not the direction I want it to go. Being in prison for the rest of his life is OK and enough. Do we need to put him to death? I don't think so. It won't make me feel any better," Robin Prunty said.

Read the rest.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Speaking in Pennsylvania

In recent weeks, MVFHR board member Walt Everett has told his story to a variety of audiences in his home state of Pennsylvania. Walt spoke at two Bucknell University events, and he was one of several speakers at a "Day of Responsibility" event held at a local prison; about 60 inmates attended. Then in late October, Walt was the luncheon speaker at NAMI-Pennsylvania's Criminal Justice Symposium.

MVFHR has been collaborating with NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) on the national level since 2008, when we launched the "Prevention, Not Execution" project. We are pleased to see that collaboration continue and look forward to more opportunities to address NAMI's state and local groups.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The ultimate violation

MVFHR member Aba Gayle is featured in this article in the 10/30/11 Oregon Statesman Journal, "From hate to healing":

For years, Aba Gayle "lusted for revenge" against the California death- row inmate who murdered her 19-year-old daughter.
But everything changed when she mailed the killer a letter, saying she forgave him.
Paying visits to San Quentin prison, Gayle befriended the man she once despised and wanted put to death.
As hate gave way to healing, she turned against the death penalty.
Now, the 77-year-old Silverton woman is a leader of a nonprofit Oregon advocacy organization that is seeking to abolish the death penalty here.
Even though condemned killers rarely are executed in Oregon, Gayle says it's time for Oregonians to repeal the law that allows state-sanctioned killing.
As she tells it, the ultimate punishment should be scrapped because it sucks taxpayer dollars, undermines human values and takes revenge in arbitrary fashion. "It truly is the ultimate violation of human rights," she said. "It is horrendous to think that when they kill somebody at the penitentiary, they do it in the name of the citizens. I don't want anybody killed in my name."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Working with the Catholic Mobilizing Network

MVFHR Board Chair Vicki Schieber has been working extensively with the Catholic Mobilizing Network Against the Death Penalty, and is in the midst of a series of speaking events in connection with that effort. This past Saturday she was the keynote speaker at a Respect Life conference in Cincinnati, and over the next couple of weeks she will be speaking as part of the National Conference of Catholic Women conference and an event called "Unimpeachable Voices Against the Death Penalty."

You can see the upcoming schedule, and other news from the Catholic Mobilizing Network, here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A broken promise

From today's California Progress Report, "Murder Victim Mom Against the Death Penalty," by Lorrain Taylor:

My twin sons, Albade and Obadiah, were just 22 years old when they were gunned down on the streets of East Oakland. Both students, Albade attending Merritt College and Obadiah studying to open his own barber shop, they had stopped on the side of the road to fix Obadiah’s stalled car when somebody shot and killed them at close range. The pain I feel for the loss of my sons will never go away. It is made even worse when I hear, almost daily, that another mother in California has lost her child to violence that has taken so many lives.

The person who killed my twin sons likely still walks the street today. Like the death of my sons, a shocking 46% of murders in California each year go unsolved, along with 56% of reported rapes. In this time of economic crisis, budgets for local law enforcement have been slashed repeatedly. Instead of hiring more officers to investigate open homicide cases, we are forced to lay off the very people who could catch these killers. Instead of testing each rape kit, they languish on shelves while the perpetrator remains free to attack another person.

While these criminals are still walking our streets, California continues to waste precious money on a broken death penalty system. Every year, California throws away $184 million dollars on 714 people that are already locked up behind bars instead of investing money in public safety programs that work. Since 1978 when the death penalty was reinstated, we have spent over 4 billion taxpayer dollars for 13 executions. For the cost of one execution, we could be employing nearly 6,000 police officers to patrol our streets, solve more serious crimes, and bring justice to more families.

The death penalty is a broken promise. It does not make our streets safer and it takes away resources from things that prevent violence, like keeping our kids in school and putting cops on the street. It also denies justice for thousands of grieving mothers who, like me, will never see their children’s murderer be held accountable for their crimes.

This is why I support the SAFE California Act (Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act). SAFE California is a ballot initiative that will replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole. By replacing the death penalty with life without possibility of parole, California will save an estimated $1 billion over the next five years. In addition, it will allocate $100 million to local law enforcement to investigate unsolved murders and rapes.

A sentence of life without the possibility of parole offers swift and certain justice. It also means that inmates will work in prison and pay money into the victim compensation fund as restitution. This money can help families of murder victims receive badly needed counseling services and pay for burial expenses. ...

Read the whole article.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unlikely opponents?

MVFHR members Charisse Coleman and Gus Lamm are among those interviewed for the CNN story, "Death penalty's unlikely opponents," that ran yesterday. Here are some excerpts:

Charisse Coleman has no real compassion for the man who walked into the Thrifty Liquor Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1995 and put three bullets in her brother, Russell.

But she doesn't want Bobby Lee Hampton -- one of more than seven dozen killers on Louisiana's death row -- executed, either.

"My opposition to the death penalty has nothing to do with Bobby Lee Hampton," Coleman said. "He's a bad dude. He's never going to be a good dude. If I got a call that said Bobby Lee Hampton dropped dead in his cell last night, I don't think it would create a ripple in my pond."

She added, though, "I will be goddamned if I will let Bobby Lee Hampton make me a victim, too, by taking me down that road of bitterness and revenge."

Coleman, 50, is among the most unlikely opponents of the death penalty, people who lost loved ones to unspeakable violence yet believe executing the killer will do nothing for family members or society.

Their stance is backed by groups like Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, and their reasons aren't as religious or political as one might think. Some feel so strongly they've spoken against the death penalty even when it wasn't an option in their loved one's case.


Jan Brown of Houston said she can't pinpoint why she loathes the death penalty, but she always has, even when her 9-year-old daughter's killer was executed.

A Southern Baptist until 1984, Brown said capital punishment is tantamount to "legalized murder." She said she doesn't know when she developed her disdain. The first time she considered it may have been when she told a prosecutor she didn't want James Earhart to die, she said.

"Maybe I'm just selfish," she said. "Maybe he'd tell me what her last words were. Maybe he'd tell me why she had to die. Maybe because I think it's barbaric. Maybe if one of my children ended up in the same situation, I wouldn't want them to die."

Brown, 65, said the entire process leading up to Earhart's lethal injection was more about the perpetrator than the victim. Brown was a suspect until police found Kandy Janell Kirtland's deteriorating body, her hands bound, in a rubbish pile in Bryan, Texas. Brown said she was further devastated when protesters staged a vigil at Earhart's 1999 execution -- not for the innocent girl who never got to see fifth grade, but for her killer.

Brown said she went through 12 years of hell because a prosecutor seemed to care more about Texas' reputation for being tough on crime than about helping Kandy's family heal.

Gus Lamm said he felt the same way when his wife, Victoria Zessin, was taken at age 28. He and his daughter unsuccessfully sued the parole board -- and in the process alienated themselves from Zessin's family -- to make sure the state knew they felt capital punishment was repugnant.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No Solace

The 10/23/11 Hartford Courant has this op-ed by MVFHR member Antoinette Bosco, "Capital Punishment No Solace To Survivors":

... I faced unspeakable torment when a Montana sheriff called in August 1993 to tell me that my son John and his beautiful wife, Nancy, had been murdered in their newly purchased home in Big Fork. We didn't know for five months who the killer was, but then we found out — it was the 18-year-old son of the people from whom John had bought the house. The killer entered through a basement window, sneaked up into their bedroom where they were sleeping and shot them to death.

Montana had only recently re-established capital punishment, and the boy, "Shadow" Clark, was facing death. I had always opposed the death penalty and my children were raised to believe as I had. I remember kneeling in that room of death with my surviving sons and we all grasped a truth so clearly — that unnatural death at the hands of another is wrong, except in a clear case of self-defense. The state is no more justified in taking a life than is an individual. Killing cannot be sanitized by calling it "official" and "legal."

And so, my then five living children and I wrote to the Montana judge asking him not to seek the death penalty for Shadow Clark. We knew it is only a delusion to believe that one's pain is ended by making someone else feel pain. We were relieved when the young murderer took a plea bargain and received a life sentence, avoiding the death penalty.

My daughter Mary expressed our belief well.

"The truth is, no one in my family ever wanted to see Shadow Clark put to death. We felt instinctively that vengeance wouldn't alleviate our grief. We wanted Clark in prison, removed from society forever, so he could never hurt another person. But watching Clark suffer and die would have done nothing to help us heal. Worse, wishing Clark would suffer and die would only have diminished us and shriveled our own souls. We had had enough pain already, dealing with the indescribable horror of our loved ones' brains and blood splattered all over their bedroom walls. We didn't need to increase our own torment by demanding more blood."

And Mary emphasized where we all stood: "Hatred doesn't heal. Mercy, compassion, moving on with life, turning toward good people, walking into the light of love as much as possible, that's what victims need. And our lawmakers have the capacity to help us do that by abolishing the death penalty and along with it, the fantasy that it will make the pain go away."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Connecticut victims' families

Connecticut member Elizabeth Brancato, whose mother was murdered in 1979, has been active in efforts to repeal Connecticut's death penalty, and she has recently started a blog, Connecticut Murder Victims' Families Speaking Out Against the Death Penalty. In her first post, Elizabeth wrote:

A few months ago, I stood with a group of individuals who had something very sad in common – we’d all lost loved ones to murder. That experience, and our subsequent experience with the criminal justice system, has convinced us that the death penalty is harmful to victims. Currently, over 80 of us have joined to together to say that if we really care about victims, we will end the death penalty.

This blog is for all victims’ family members who believe the death penalty is a policy that has failed victims. I will submit entries, but I will also ask other victims’ family members from around Connecticut to share their stories. We have different backgrounds and perspective, but are united by the belief that the death penalty system has hurt us and other survivors.

We welcome Elizabeth and other Connecticut victims' family members to the blogosphere, and look forward to linking regularly to their powerful testimony.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Speaking about how an execution affects a family

This past Sunday, Texas MVFHR member Rena Beazley and I (Susannah Sheffer) gave a presentation -- via telephone and Skype -- to law students attending a weekend training organized by the British group Amicus, which provides various kinds of assistance to capital defense attorneys in the United States. Rena, whose son was executed in 2002, spoke about her family's experience and about the effects of an execution on surviving family members. I spoke about MVFHR's No Silence, No Shame project, including some of the recommendations that we have made regarding legal recognition for families of the executed and regarding various kinds of help that should be made available. Thanks to Piers Bannister at Amicus for inviting us to make this presentation.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Glimpse of MVFHR in Mongolia

This item from Mongolia's English-language news service gives a glimpse of MVFHR's work there this week past week. More to come!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The London Declaration

One outcome of Penal Reform International's “Progressing toward abolition of the death penalty and alternative sanctions that respect international human rights standards" conference last month, at which Renny Cushing represented MVFHR, is a document called the London Declaration. The Declaration summarizes the recommendations that the participants agreed upon - participants which included government officials and representatives of civil society and inter-governmental organisations from 31 countries.

MVFHR contributed in particular to the inclusion of recommendations regarding victims' families and families of the executed. See the fourth point in this list of assertions that introduce the Declaration:

- Convinced that the death penalty undermines human dignity and can amount to cruel,inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment;

- Noting that there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters criminal behaviour any more effectively than other punishments;

- Recalling that where the death penalty is retained at all, it should only be imposed for the “most serious crimes”, and after a fair trial has been granted to the accused;

- Mindful that the death penalty creates additional victims – the family members of those who have been executed – who are often forgotten, marginalised or stigmatised by society;

- Mindful that the essential aim of the penitentiary system should be the “reformation and social rehabilitation” of prisoners;

And the ninth recommendation of the Declaration says:

In recognition of the suffering of victims of violent crime and their loved ones, call upon states to:

a. ensure that all victims be treated with dignity, respect and equality throughout the criminal process, regardless of their beliefs about or position on the issue of the death penalty;

b. establish a victims’ compensation fund where there is none;

c. address the rights of victims to reconciliation or mitigation with the offender where appropriate, and provide any other psycho-social support.

We were interested to see that an Inter-Press Service article earlier this week focused specifically on the Declaration's urging of the Arab League and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights to consider developing regional protocols on the abolition of the death penalty. The Inter-Press Service article also quotes the portion of the Declaration that refers to families of the executed.

Video from South Korea interview

No photos yet from Mongolia, but we've just gotten a link to the short video that Amnesty International made during MVFHR's visit to South Korea last month, in connection with the country's 5,000th day without an execution. In this video, Renny Cushing talks about his father's murder, his opposition to the death penalty, the work of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, and why this is a crucial historical moment for South Korea.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

... and in Uganda

MVFHR members Bill Pelke and Bill Babbitt are traveling in Uganda with The Journey of Hope this week, speaking out against the death penalty at various events. They are there at the invitation of Journey of Hope member Mpagi Edward Edmary, who spent 18 years on Uganda's death row for a crime he did not commit.

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty reports that there were many events in African countries honoring World Day Against the Death Penalty yesterday:

One of the bigger events is the ‘Regional Conference on the Abolition and/or Moratorium on the Execution of the Death Penalty’ organised by the Government of Rwanda with Hands Off Cain and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, to be held in Kigali. The conference will have participants from at least 24 different African countries and representatives from the European Union and African Union. According to the organisers, “The conference aims to launch a major debate on the need to abolish the death penalty on the African continent or at least impose a moratorium on its execution across the entire Continent.”

Read the rest of the Coalition's article, which also mentions the Journey of Hope's visit.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Working for abolition in Mongolia

A delegation of MVFHR members is in Mongolia this week, working with allies to support efforts to abolish the death penalty in that country. We'll post photos and reports from the various events as soon as they're available. One of today's activities is a press conference in connection with World Day Against the Death Penalty. Here is the group's public statement:

Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty, a day when nations around the globe stand in solidarity against the use of capital punishment. Members of Murder VIctims' Families for Human Rights, a United States-based international organization, are in Mongolia on this day to lend support to those who are calling for an end to the death penalty in this country. We are meeting with other family members of murder victims to share our common pain, and we are meeting with public officials and others to explain why we oppose the death penalty. As survivors with a direct stake in the death penalty debate, we join today in the call for a worldwide moratorium on executions. Let us not respond to violence with more violence. Let us recognize that justice for victims is not achieved by taking another life.

Read MVFHR's general statement on World Day Against the Death Penalty.
Read about MVFHR's previous work in Mongolia.

World Day Against the Death Penalty

Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
Statement on World Day Against the Death Penalty

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights is a U.S.-based international organization of family members of homicide victims and family members of people who have been executed. As survivors with a direct stake in the death penalty debate, and as people who believe in the value of basic human rights principles, we join today in the call for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

The most basic of human rights, the right to life, is violated both by homicide and by execution. We call today for a consistent human rights ethic in response to violence: let us not respond to one human rights violation with another human rights violation. Let us recognize that justice for victims is not achieved by taking another life.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was inspired by victims, demanded by victims. It grew out of the suffering of millions of civilians murdered under the brutal regimes of the Second World War, and its adoption on December 10, 1948 was a way to honor the loss of those lives by asserting that such violations are neither moral nor permissible under any nation or regime.

Now, over sixty years later, let us recognize that violations of human life in the form of the death penalty should not be permissible under any nation or regime. Working across state and national borders, united by our losses and our opposition to further killing, members of MVFHR call for abolition of the death penalty because the only way to uphold human rights is to uphold them in all cases, universally.

Friday, October 7, 2011

In Colorado

MVFHR's Renny Cushing will be the keynote speaker at the Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons conference this weekend, and will also meet with members of Coloradoans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Read MVFHR's newsletter article describing the work of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons.

Read MVFHR's newsletter issue with a feature on how unsolved murders affect victims' families.

Read more about Renny Cushing's legislation regarding victims' compensation and cold cases.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


MVFHR is mentioned in this column by Tom Hennessy in Saturday's Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram:

When Troy Davis was executed in Georgia last month for the 1989 murder of police officer Mark MacPhail, opponents of capital punishment nevertheless took solace in hoping that the death penalty was on its way to being abolished.

After all, Davis had more going for him than almost any of the 1,270 U.S. prisoners put to death since 1976. About 650,000 Americans had signed petitions opposing his execution. Those pleading for his life included Pope Benedict XVI, former President Jimmy Carter and former FBI director William Sessions.

Seven of the original nine eyewitnesses had recanted their testimony. Thus, the possibility remained that Davis was innocent. But likely, we will never know. Once a suspect has been executed, the justice system does not encourage further investigation.

Some of those who favored the execution say they did so on the premise that the death of Davis will bring closure to the family of Officer MacPhail.

But Jeanne Woodford doubts that assessment. As former warden of San Quentin State Prison, she became so distressed by a lifetime of helping administer the death penalty that on May 12 she took on a radically different post: executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based group opposed to capital punishment. She was one of six ex-wardens opposed to the killing of Davis.

"The death penalty serves no one." Woodford has said. "It doesn't serve the victims. It doesn't serve prevention. It's truly all about retribution."

She is not alone. In the following paragraphs, 25 other notable people, widely quoted on a variety of websites, express their views on capital punishment, a subject that may well be on the California ballot next year.

A justice's view

1. "... the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent."

Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr.

2. "I was eight years old when my father was murdered. It is almost impossible to describe the pain of losing a parent to a senseless murder ... But even as a child, one thing was clear to me: I didn't want the killer, in turn, to be killed. I remember lying in bed and praying, `Please, God. Please don't take his life, too.' I saw nothing that could be accomplished in the loss of one life being answered with the loss of another."

Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Sen. Bobby Kennedy.

3. "If not remedied, the scandalous state of our present system of capital punishment will cast a pall of shame over our society for years to come. We cannot let it continue."

Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1990.

4. "You believe an eye for an eye until you are put in that situation. If they kill those guys, it really doesn't mean much to me. My father is gone."

Basketball player Michael Jordan on the murderers of his father, James.

5. "Government ... can't be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill."

Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking."

6. "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."

Mark Twain.

Primitive nation?

7. "It's just really tragic after all the horrors of the last 1,000 years we can't leave behind something as primitive as government-sponsored execution."

Sen. Russ Feingold.

8. "To top it off, for those of you who are interested in the economics, it costs more to pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full life imprisonment without parole."

Ralph Nader.

9. "Capital punishment, like the rest of the criminal justice system, is a government program, so skepticism is in order."

George Will.

10. "A humane and generous concern for every individual, his health and his fulfillment, will do more to soothe the savage heart than the fear of state-inflicted death, which chiefly serves to remind us how close we remain to the jungle."

U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

11. "When you execute a man who has been on death row seven, eight, 10 or 12 years, you are not executing the same man that came in."

Don Cabana, former warden of Mississippi's Parchman Penitentiary.

12. "Here I want to say that one must be careful in searching his soul ... one may just find that God is there and that he does not support the barbaric idea that man should execute man."

Ron McAndrew, former warden of Florida State Prison.

13. "To me the death penalty is vengeance, and vengeance doesn't really help anyone in the healing process."

Bud Welch, board president, Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. His daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

14. "No man has the right to take God's place and say another man should die. It destroyed my life."

Perry Cobb, who spent eight years on Illinois' death row for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated in 1987.

District attorney's view

15. "California's death penalty is ... an incredibly costly penalty, and the money would be better spent keeping kids in school, keeping teachers and counselors in their schools and giving the juvenile justice system the resources it needs."

Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti.

16. "Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders."

French philosopher Albert Camus.

17. "My overriding belief is that it is always possible for criminals to improve and that by its very finality the death penalty contradicts this."

The Dalai Lama.

18. "People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty."

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

19. "To say that the death of any other person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims."

Marietta Jaeger. Her daughter, Susie, age 7, was kidnapped and murdered in 1973.

20. "I do not think that God approved the death penalty for any crime, rape and murdered included. Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God."

Martin Luther King Jr.

21. "I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don't think it's human to become an Angel of Death."

Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

22. "The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery. It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics."

Bryan Stevenson, death row lawyer.

23. "Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn't do the hangman's job."

George Orwell.

24. "I believe that no one should be executed, guilty or innocent. There are appropriate sanctions that protect society and punish wrongdoers without forcing us to stoop to the level of the least among us at his or her worst moment."

Actor and activist Mike Farrell.

25. "I have come to think that capital punishment should be abolished."

Jack Kemp, Republican vice presidential candidate, 1996.